Protestants Advocate Amendments to Law on Freedom of Conscience
Believers of a number of Protestant denominations launch a campaign to bring the law on freedom of conscience in conformity with the Constitution principles. The believers refer to Article 31 of the Constitution which declares equal rights to all believers. According to the new law, some religious communities lost registration, reports RFE/RL.
The believers have to gather at least 50,000 signatures to be able to appeal to the Constitutional Court. They want to amend some parts of the law on the freedom of conscience. In particular, they would like to change the current regulation that allows public liturgies without permission from authorities only at cemeteries, crematoria, and in pilgrimage shrines. They also want to change the article that says that a religious community is to be registered with a legal address in a non-residential building.
Referring to the law, the courts shut down several Protestant communities in Minsk and in the regions, including the ones headed by Pastors Ernest Sabila, Leanid Lipen, and Heorhi Viazouski.
Last year the believers of the New Life Church went on a hunger strike to protest against the actions of the regime. In the beginning the city officials deprived them of their piece of land and, later, the building of their church (the former cowhouse). They were supported by hundreds of Protestants. As a result, the authorities made concessions, and the Supreme Economic Court began to hear their case. However, on March 22nd the hearing was suspended to an unknown term. Siarhei Lukanin, lawyer of the New Life church, says:
“This is a violation of the believers’ rights and violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. The law violates Article 31 of the Constitution that gives equal rights to all believers. We would like to collect as many signatures as possible in order to draw attention of the president of the country and the state authorities to the situation in the sphere of believers’ rights.”
The Church pastor Viachaslau Hancharenka does not exclude the possibility of a new long-term protest action if the authorities fail to solve the situation in favor of the Christians.
“Because the majority of Protestant churches do not own buildings, they found themselves outside the law. We were first to face the attack. Now Catholics also have to fight for their own rights. If the authorities decide not in our favor, we will continue protest actions”.
The Protestants plan to collect signatures in one week. They hope believers of all Christian denominations will join their campaign.